Off to a healthy start

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It’s too early to give a full evaluation of Denise Schepici as CEO and president of Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, but critics of the hospital have to be pleased so far with the transparency and communication of her administration.

Schepici was hired in January, and faced a mountain to climb to rebuild the public’s trust in the hospital. Thus far, she’s tackled the job the way a teenage boy devours a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos.

Last week, Schepici kept one of her early promises and held a public forum on all aspects of the hospital and healthcare on the Island. She was funny and engaging when appropriate, but direct and honest, as well, in answering questions about hospital issues. While a spoonful of sugar may help the medicine go down, there was no sugarcoating done by Schepici when it came to some of the serious issues facing the Island’s hospital.

Schepici started the conversation by giving the audience a window into her life, talking about her childhood in East Boston living with her extended family, and her first visit to Martha’s Vineyard — something nearly everyone in the audience could probably relate to in some way.

She answered tough questions about services offered by the hospital, and those, like abortion services, that the hospital doesn’t and won’t offer. She was also crystal-clear about Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, saying that when the hospital works on its strategic plans, Windemere won’t be a part of them.

“It’s an Island problem, not just my problem. It’s a community problem. We’re going to, together as a community, look at what we can do,” she said. “Windemere is the past. It’s not the future of elder care.”

She did promise to work with other community leaders to find an alternative and to keep Windemere open while that process works itself out.

Schepici has already tackled an issue that comes up time and again on the Island, the availability of primary-care physicians. Last week, the hospital announced that three doctors have been hired, and will join the staff in September. The hospital has also added nurse practitioners who can provide some of the same services as physicians. It’s a step in the right direction.

Schepici’s best moment during the forum came when she was willing to say that the hospital made a mistake in how it handled a woman’s colonoscopy. During the screening process, the woman said she was asked about alcohol use, but the nurse who took her information never asked about drug addiction. When the woman brought that up to the nurse, she said she was told the only alternative to opioids was to have no medication at all for the procedure.

Schepici, backed up by Dr. Pieter Pil, the hospital’s chief of medicine, said that information was incorrect, and both vowed to make sure that staff is trained in letting the public know about alternatives to fentanyl and/or any opioids.

The MVRHS Performing Arts Center wasn’t filled to capacity, but there were close to 200 people in the audience — a tribute to just how important the hospital is to the public.

Schepici was, quite literally, in the spotlight, and handled every question from the audience. When she couldn’t address specifics, she counted on Pil and other members of her staff to fill in the gaps. And she even handled a question about her predecessor with grace, saying that she didn’t know him, but is confident in her own abilities and relationship with the hospital’s board.

In the aftermath of Woodin’s ouster, it was clear that changes needed to be made in leadership at the hospital. Timothy Sweet, the board’s longtime chairman, had his term on the board end, and some new blood has been added.

It’s only natural that Schepici’s tenure will be watched closely and scrutinized by a public that feels passionate about its community hospital. She’s off to a good start.